Chocolate. Those three syllables are like music to my ears... or more accurately, stomach. As a kid, I thought Kit Kat and Twix Bars were the best chocolate out there (ok, not going to lie, I still do enjoy a candy bar here and there). Growing up, Lindt and Godiva were the "gourmet chocolate" in my life. Then the awakening happened: a friend took me to her favorite French chocolatier in NYC, La Maison du Chocolat. I uncontrollably wept on the inside. Where have you been all my life, I thought, as each little piece of heaven was slowly and carefully enjoyed. I soon discovered another fantastic French chocolatier in NYC aptly dubbed Mr. Chocolate, Jacques Torres. These are the types of places that every cocoa bean dreams of ending up one day.
Now imagine you were going to a place where these types of chocolatiers were absolutely everywhere, always just a short walk away. Yes, exactly: heaven on earth! Asheley and I definitely spent our fair share of time in Paris chocolatiers. We didn't get to all of the ones that I had on my list to visit, but the chocolatiers we did get to were really fantastic:
In Paris, the people who make chocolate don't view it as just a job or business... it's their lifelong craft. As David Leibovitz explains on his amazing blog, David Leibovitz: Living the Sweet Life in Paris, this is not something they do to put themselves through college. They aren't struggling actors just trying to get by with a day job. Chocolate makers work tirelessly to perfect their craft from an early age, and it is a lifelong pursuit. Here are the chocolatiers we had the opportunity to visit while in Paris:
1. Patrick Roger
This was one of our favorite (and best) chocolatiers in Paris. Everything, from the modern elegance of the boutique to the meticulously sourcing of his cocoa beans and ingredients for fillings, brought joyful tears to my eyes... and a big smile to my stomach.
Patrick Roger is a rockstar. And no, that's just not my opinion. He is a certified MOF Chocolatier (Meilleur Ouvrier de France). It is the title every French food-industry professional dreams of becoming. The honor of becoming a MOF is awarded with extreme rarity... and once you win it, you retain the title for life. If you look at the awning in the picture above, you will see the words "Meilleur Ouvrier de France Chocolatier". By law, only official MOFs are allowed to display such a statement.
Patrick Roger is known for being a master of unique and unusual flavor combinations, such as lime and caramel, vinegar and raisin, and even peppermint with lemongrass. Weird-sounding? Maybe... but they are nothing short of genius in taste.
Along the back wall of the boutique are various stacks of chocolate bars. Patrick Roger travels the globe and creates single-sourced chocolate bars. What does that mean? He'll go to Venezuela, find the best cocoa plantation there, and then make chocolate bars only using those beans. Then he'll go to Morocco and do the same thing... and on, and on. Each chocolate has their own unique flavor, their own character... some floral, some fruity. It's all very cool and interesting to a nerd like me!
Look at the beautiful half-spheres in the following photo in the lower left: they are absolutely stunning visually. These gems are liquid caramel enrobed in a very thin layer of chocolate topped with an essence of fruit. They are amazing!
Patrick Roger sources only the best of the best ingredients for his fillings. For instance, he doesn't just use oranges, he uses oranges from Corsica, a French island in the Mediterranean Sea. Hazelnuts? Piedmont of course. And if he can't find the best of the best? Well then he just grows them himself. He currently has and maintains several beehives, an orchard, and an herb garden.
Ahh, caramels, how I love thee. That is all.
Just inside the windows of his boutiques, Patrick Roger features massive chocolate sculptures that raise awareness of animal species on the verge of extinction, or Earth's problems that highly affect the well-being of animals. Proceeds from the sales of these sculptures are donated by Patrick Roger to various charities. Focusing this year on the hippopotamus, the finished sculpture is 7 metres long and weighs over 4 tons. It was all carved by hand and took about a year to complete:
If you want to learn more about Patrick Roger, David Lebovitz did a really cool video that gives you a unique behind the scenes look. Click here to check it out!
2. Jacques Genin
Caramels. If you have to pick one place to enjoy a caramel in Paris, come here to Jacques Genin. They are beyond amazing in flavor and texture... and anyone who's tried to make caramel knows how hard it is to get it right His isn't just right. It's perfect.
They offer several flavors, such as chocolate, pistachio, ginger, and natural. After several taste tests for the sake of this post (trust me, I had no satisfaction in having to eat numerous caramels), I would highly recommend the natural and ginger. Now, before you start thinking ginger in caramel? So weird?!?!? Stop. Just stop. It's truly amazing.
We couldn't leave without a box of chocolate. Look how beautiful they are! I almost felt bad eating them... almost.
Jacques Genin also has a little cafe area where you can order a hot beverage and some of the delicious-looking pastries that were staring me down.
3. Jean-Charles Rochoux
I offer you a challenge. When you first walk into Jean-Charles Rochoux, try not to smile. Go ahead, try. Even the world's most stoic would have difficulty. As you enter, your eyes immediately are drawn to the immaculate, intricate little hand-carved chocolate sculptures (go to his website for photos), while your nose is hit with the most amazing chocolate smell that permeates the air. You often hear about casinos pumping the air full of oxygen. If they want to keep me awake the next time I'm in Atlantic City, they should try to bottle this smell.
The lone staff member who was in the boutique was so gracious and appreciative of our smiles. She offered us samples of everything we were interested in purchasing (score!). Pictured above are 2 jars of awesomeness: an amazing salted caramel sauce and a dark chocolate - strawberry sauce. The bottom photos are this amazing bar of chocolate with candied hazelnuts. You can tell how good they are by the fact I bought four of them.
Probably the best thing in the shop, though, are the amazing truffles. They only last 10 days, so our plan was to go the morning we were leaving to optimize freshness.... and... we... ran out of time! Let the crying commence. It was pretty devastating. The only rainbow in this story is that I now have a legitimate excuse for a return to Paris very soon.
4. Franck Kestener
So, I actually just found something out as I'm writing this post: Franck Kestener is also a MOF Chocolatier. It makes sense, actually, considering the high-quality of the chocolate (and the macarons weren't half bad either!). However, the true star here is the Atlantique square bar of chocolate (upper-right in the photo): dark chocolate, a little crispy shortbread, and salted caramel. That's a triple threat if I've ever tasted one. I still have one bar left (I bought 3), but when I run out I'm going to try to order more here and hope they ship to the U.S.
5. La Maison du Chocolat
I know, we have one of the La Maison Du Chocolat boutiques here in NYC, but I couldn't resist saying I had La Maison Du Chocolat actually in Paris. As always, delicious. I was interested to see if they had any different flavors in Paris that aren't available in the states. I only found one: an awesomely intense dark chocolate ganache piece that I've never seen before called Extreme Chocolat.
6. Un Dimanche A Paris
We quickly ran into Pierre Cluizel's Un Dimanche A Paris just before a dinner reservation, so I didn't have much time to look around and browse. In my pre-arrival research, I read that they have excellent little cup of hot chocolate , so we gave it a shot. Amazing!
It was an amazing trip filled with unbelievable chocolate. Unfortunately, I didn't get to all the chocolate shops on my list, such as Meert and Fouquet. But, there's always next trip. I thankfully brought home a small arsenal of chocolate to keep away the painful reality of being so far from Paris. Long distance relationships just never work.